Racism in Healthcare and Ethical Problems

Racism today is not limited to explicit racial policies. Some discriminatory policies and practices, such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and Apartheid, have been abolished; however, their pioneering systems remain. Besides, in the context of institutional barriers that mainly precludes equitable access, they are likely to perpetuate existing disparities in health outcomes. Racism at the institutional level is seen in actions, policies, and practices that result in ethnic or racial inequalities in life outcomes. Institutional racism is structurally connected with various corporate bodies such as the government, corporations, organizations, or state institutions involved in producing racial discrimination and inequities. It can be reflected in formal and informal social institutions that include norms, laws, customs, policies, and practices that systematically engage in the production of racial inequities.  

Racism presents as a negation of justice that unfairly erodes the rights of people from ethnic and racial minorities with consequences of preventable disadvantages in health and well-being. The prevalence of racism in healthcare is a critical ethical issue. Racism is more likely to cause discrimination among racial and ethnic minorities in the healthcare system while undermining access to equitable health services (Gee et al., 2019).

For example, in the United States, in the summer of 2014, law enforcement personnel shot two unarmed young black men in New York City, prompting widespread protests accusing the police of racial profiling. But there was no equivalent investigation in the United States that indicated underlying institutional racism (Peeples, 2019). This incident reflects systemic injustices that affect racial minorities in multiracial societies. The continued existence of practices, norms, and laws makes the concept of institutional racism consistent.

Racism occurs irrespective of individual attitudes and beliefs, with significant effects on racial minorities. Another crucial point is that it is not easy to detect racism; it is rarely visible to those privileged by it and is sometimes undetectable to those impacted by it. One of the reasons could be that it does not require overt attitudes of individuals or groups. Racism is routinely perpetrated without intent through the structures of society and is often embedded in institutions and social networks. It is such an exclusionary system where a particular group is denied access to rights and privileges conferred to some groups in the form of unearned advantage.

Racism transcends negative attitudes, with prejudice representing racism. It creeps in every aspect of life and ultimately crystallizes into pervasive institutional racism, persisting irrespective of people’s good or ill will. The prediction that racism would either be eliminated or driven out of the marketplace failed to materialize, and race remains a defining factor in society. Equitable access to all segments of society should be ensured to generate more social trust. Therefore, understanding the historical basis of racism is essential to grasp the institutional nature of the existing racial inequities that deeply impact communities of color.


Gee, G. C., Hing, A., Mohammed, S., Tabor, D. C., & Williams, D. R. (2019). Racism and the life course: Taking time seriously. American Journal of Public Health109(S1), S43-S47.

Peeples, L. (2019). What the data say about police shootings. Nature573(7772), 24-27.

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